Sunday, October 23, 2022

La morte vivante (1982)

... aka: Lady Dracula
... aka: Living Dead, The
... aka: Living Dead Girl, The
... aka: Scare: Dead or Alive?

Directed by:
Jean Rollin

It's been a few years since I last logged a Jean Rollin movie here and I now remember why it's taken me so long to get back around to him again. My last Rollin ftv, FASCINATION (1979), which is widely considered one of his best films, left me completely bewildered as to how something so aimless, plot-less, blandly presented and poorly-made could be viewed by anyone as good let alone great. It did get me some hilarious hate mail from admirers of the director, though, informing me that I had terrible taste, was a moron and had no appreciation for art, so there's at least that. Admittedly, the movie wasn't without some merit. Yes, the house they shot it at was kind of cool. Unfortunately, this isn't HG-Fucking-TV here. I could also say a redeeming feature was the hot-bodied Brigitte Lahaie frequently naked, but there are a hundred other films providing the same exact thing and a lot of those feature much more of Lahaie with the added bonus of being generally better-made. So seeing how Rollin's supposed "masterpiece" did not do much for me, and the fact he's never been accused of being a "substance director" anyway (which actually made Fascination's minimalist visual merit feel almost depressing), I wasn't in a big hurry to see a generally-consensus'd "lesser" film of his.

However, I'm also aware by now that I'm simply not a fan of one type of Rollin film. His meandering and near plot-less vamp-erotic flicks do nothing for me. That said, I do enjoy some of his other work. He's proven he could deliver his usual exploitative and erotic elements while also making an otherwise decent genre film. Where I really conflict with a lot of others is that the films I prefer also happen to be the films the director's more hardcore fans usually slag off as being "too commercial." The Living Dead Girl is generally considered one of these "commercial" (i.e. coherent) efforts so I'm not one bit surprised that I enjoyed this a bit more than his usual. 

Three sleazy men are hired to find a place to dump some drums of chemical waste and choose a series of catacombs underneath an old home. Hey, it's dark, cold, forgotten and, while they're down there, they can do a little grave robbing. After cracking a couple of caskets and snatching a few pieces of jewelry off one corpse, a tremor and rock slide overturn one of the drums. Chemicals leak into the ground, fumes are released into the air and the amazing well preserved (consider she's been dead for two years!) corpse Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard) is resurrected. After poking out the men's eyeballs and ripping out their throats, Catherine wanders above ground and makes her way to her former castle home, which is now in the process of being sold.

Even though she's a hot blonde, Catherine is basically a "creature" in the same spirit as the ghouls that usually populated 1930s creature features, believe it or not. She has a history and a tragedy about her and views her renewed life and bloodlust as a curse. In her teen years, Catherine was in love with her best friend Hélène. Whether that was platonic or romantic love and, if the latter, whether or not that was reciprocated love on both ends, is left unclear. The two close "friends" even made a blood pact that whomever of the two died first, the other would take their own life to join them. Of course, the now-grown Hélène (Marina Pierro), though heartbroken over her friend's passing several years earlier, did not hold down her end of the bargain and moved on with her life. Still, her heart has always remained with her late friend. That's why when she calls the castle to talk to Catherine's mother, unaware that she had recently passed away herself, and hears a familiar music box melody, she rushes to the castle.

Upon arriving, Hélène is greeted by the bloodied, nude corpses of both a Realtor (played by Patricia Besnard-Rousseau, who was also a hardcore porn actress under the name Patricia Bouvier) and the woman's lover. She then finds her bloody friend sitting nude playing the piano. You know, the same one who should be dead and buried. Inspecting the underground crypt, Hélène puts two and two together after discovering the corpses of the three slain grave robbers as well as Catherine's open casket. He beloved gal pal is actually a LiViNg DeAd GiRl! And like any good lover or friend, when you discover your amore has turned into a tormented vampire-zombie thingy with a thirst for blood, you're going to put them out of their misery as soon as possible, right? Right? Apparently not if you're Hélène, who cleans up the murder scene, hides the bodies and then offers up her own blood to Catherine.

Seeing how there's only so much blood in one human body, Hélène then tries to give her friend a dead bird to feast upon, but she refuses. Only human blood will suffice so the human half of the duo sets about procuring victims to satiate Catherine's blood hunger, starting with a motorist (Fanny Magier) who gets her guts ripped out after being lured into the crypt. Meanwhile, a couple consisting of American writer Greg (Mike Marshall) and his (English-speaking) French girlfriend Barbara (Carina Barone) are visiting the area. The dissatisfied Barbara wants to be an actress but has been roped into doing photography work by Greg, who - for some reason - is portrayed as being a complete douchebag. Barbara snaps a photo of Catherine wandering around in a field, becomes fascinated with her, discovers from locals that the girl in her photos died two years earlier and then sets about investigating the matter.

Can't say this film did anything to sell me on Rollin's rep as one of the genre's top visual artists. I've no clue why he even has that reputation in the first place to be perfectly honest! Like most of his other efforts I've seen, this is neither heavy on directorial flair nor visual imagination. Not that this looks bad or anything. It actually looks quite nice and is technically well-photographed (by Max Monteillet) and lit, plus benefits from good shooting locations and interior art direction. It's just that discernibly creative or artistic presentation of the material isn't something that just leaps out at you like it does with other notable horror stylists.

What is most surprising is that it takes the director almost 30 minutes before he gets around to squeezing in the first gratuitous nude scene. And, while there's ample nudity on display from there on out, it's incorporated into the film in a way where it never brings the story to a screeching halt like in many of his other films. While fairly amateurish (you can even see the tubes pumping out blood at one point!), the gore fx are adequately grisly and there are plenty of them. These were done by a 17-year-old Benoît Lestang, who'd move on to bigger films like The City of Lost Children (1995), Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) and Martyrs (2008). Sadly, Lestang took his own life in 2008 at the age of just 43. Though the acting is highly variable, Blanchard (who starts out as a passive, aloof mute but eventually gains a more aggressive voice and presence) easily makes the strongest impression.

Though I've never even seen this pointed out before, LDG is actually a French / U.S. co-production produced by American Sam Selsky, who also appears in a cameo as a potential home buyer alongside another older lady who may have been his real-life wife. That probably explains why a number of the characters are American and also why a number of the actors also speak English. Supposedly, an entirely English-language version was simultaneously made by director Gregory Heller, who is only credited as a writer on the French version, but it was never released as is now presumed lost.

Despite the American connections and despite the fact his received a video release nearly everywhere else, the film completely bypassed the VHS era here and wasn't released until Image put it out on DVD in 1999. There has since been a number of other releases (including a Blu-ray) from companies like Redemption / Salvation and Kino Lorber.

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